Ask Don Jolley his first impression after joining the massive firefighting effort in Kamloops and his response isn’t surprising.
“Smoky,” he says.
“Even in Kamloops.
“The last couple of days the weather has cooperated. It’s been busy, but not crazy.”
The Pitt Meadows fire chief’s experience is coming in handy at the provincial regional emergency operation centre where he’s working for the B.C. Fire Commissioner. If crews in the central part of B.C. need advice such as the equipment or manpower needed to fight an urban fire or a building fire, Jolley can help out.
While there, Jolley has seen a firefighting effort that requires the coordination of dozens of agencies with a spectrum of skills, all of which must be synchronized.
In addition to Emergency Management BC centres, BC Wildfire Service is coordinating the actual fighting of the forest fires. There is also Emergency Social Services helping evacuees, utility companies, cities and regional districts, First Nations bands and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, all of whose efforts must be coordinated in battling hundreds of blazes.
“It’s very well organized by the province. They’ve got a lot of resources here from various ministries, coordinating really well.
“Very interesting and truly a very coordinated effort.”
In addition to advising the central area, Jolley is doing the same for the northeast emergency operation centre in Prince George.
“The wildfire guys, they’re tremendously busy with the wildfire. The structural firefighters, as best they can, are assisting with fireline protection …”
Jolley said that while firefighters are getting the gratitude from across the province, hundreds of volunteers are toiling in the background helping evacuees who’ve streamed into the city.
“Lots of people are thanking the firefighting but there are incredible numbers of volunteers that are doing all kinds of things. It’s truly altruistic. Tremendous.”
While Jolley works in the centre, four Pitt Meadows firefighters are completing their first week on fireguard duty in 150 Mile House. They’re working 12- to 15-hour days and will be replaced by a new team today for a second week-long stretch.
Asst. chief Brad Perrie led the first crew and said they’re mainly on fireline patrol, working to reinforce firebreaks and put out any spot fires. They have no water however so it all has to be done with pickaxe and shovel and their one spare truck that they brought with them.
“We’ve been doing about everything. It’s long days, but it’s rewarding to feel you’re helping them out.”
He’s heard that some buildings in the area have burned but he’s not getting complete updates about the overall fire situation and instead is just focused on what he and his crew are asked to do. There’s currently no TV but they heard thunderstorms were supposed to roll through the area.
“They don’t have a lot of firefighters up in 150,” Perrie said.
“We’re here trying to do the best we can trying to support the 150 Mile House crew. They’ve done a fantastic job. They live here. They’re fighting for their town. These guys have been going night and day doing this.”
The crew is staying at the 150 Mile House fire hall, a base camp for about 60 firefighters from Lumby, Abbotsford, Cowichan, Sicamous, Oyster River and Metchosin,”
Rick Laing, with Ridge Meadows Search and Rescue, is also helping without the efforts in the Lower Mainland emergency operations centre in RCMP headquarters in Surrey.